THE HAGUE (AFP) - France may be facing Croatia in the World Cup final on Sunday (July 15), but Europe's anti-crime agency is footing its own squad of a somewhat different kind in the run-up to the big match.
From Thursday, Europol is offering up their own "team" of 25 most wanted criminals in an online game not unlike collecting football cards.
The Hague-based policing organisation has launched a website displaying cards which need to be "flipped over" to reveal the name and photo of a wanted criminal, plus background to his alleged crimes.
The criminals are decked out in blue-and-yellow jerseys, Europol's colours and wear the wolfshead logo of the so-called Enfast network.
The European Network of Fugitive Active Search Teams (Enfast) consists of police officers across the continent tasked with hunting fugitives from justice.
The e-cards read "WANTED" on the front plus an outline of the fugitive and which European country is looking for him, on the backdrop of a football pitch.
"At the start of the game, the field will be empty. Starting from today at 8am (2pm Singapore time) national law enforcement authorities and Europol will share different codes through their social media channels," Europol said in a statement.
"You need these codes to unlock the cards of the criminals/players on the field," it added.
The ninth and last code will be revealed on Saturday, the day before the World Cup final.
The first code, #RedCardUROut reveals three fugitives wanted by France, Cyprus and Finland.
One of the men on the run is David Gras, 48, wanted by the French police for his alleged involvement in a series of robberies against armoured cash transports or banks in 2011 "using stolen vehicles, explosives and heavy weapons".
"The main one was committed by a commando who attacked a cash strongroom in Orly. The criminals used an explosive device which killed a security guard and wounded two other employees," Europol said.
"We present the wanted list in a playful way, but behind it is a very serious purpose: To catch Europe's most wanted criminals," Europol spokesman Tine Hollevoet told Agence France-Presse.
The "cards" can be found on https://eumostwanted.eu/crimeleague
It is not the first time that Europol has used an innovative approach to boost public awareness of fugitives on the run.
Previously, Europol launched an "advent calendar" of most wanted criminals during the Christmas season leading to three arrests, while a summer "postcard" campaign led to the arrest of three more.